Monday, January 27, 2014

"You Only Live Once" - Wise words from Mohan Belani, co-founder of e27

This is the third issue of the DBIT Startup Inspiration series,  a line-up of articles written by our DBIT students and staff about start-up founders that they have interviewed in person.

One of the four focal training areas in the Diploma in Business Information Technology (DBIT) is technopreneurship. Our objective is to inspire, develop and enable the next generation of technopreneurs to start-up their own companies with great innovative technology products that would impact and benefit the world.

On 27 December 2013,  I went on a "Start-up Adventure" trip with three other DBIT students and my lecturer Ms Dora Chua to learn more about the start-up scene in Singapore by interviewing the founders of various start-ups.  We conducted the interviews together with our newly-made friends from Korea who came to Singapore for a 5 day visit with the same objective.

If you have not read the entries by my fellow DBIT senior and Year 1 course-mate on their interviews with Xu Daxiang and Mr Chak Kong Soon, do check them out!

In this entry, I shall tell you more about the inspiring founder we talked to on our third stop on this trip. The person I am going to talk about is Mr Mohan Belani, the co-founder of e27.

About E27

First, let me give you a little background about e27.

e27 is a media organization focused on the Asian technology startup community. The company was started in 2007 by Mr Mohan and his friend Mr JitSiong Thaddeus Koh.

The best way to know more about the company is to visit their media blog where you can read their high-quality articles that provide you the latest insights on technology and entrepreneurship around the Asia region. If you want to know the most updated news about start-ups, funding, exits, hiring, firing, trend analysis  or founder profiles, e27 is one place you should check out!

Get the latest tech start-up news at e27

Besides their online media, e27 also organises offline events. One of their most attended events is the annual Echelon which is now in its fourth year since its first inception in 2010. Thousands of delegates attend this two days premier tech conference for startups and growth-stage businesses at the Satellites in cities around Asia. At the Echelon conference, selected start-ups are given a chance to pitch to investors  for a chance to be spotted and funded.  The Startup Marketplace and Tech Alley also present a microcosm of Asia's most innovative technologies and companies and are a hit with investors, corporations and organizations looking to back game changing innovations.

Be seen by investors at e27's Echelon conference 

Besides Echelon, e27 also organises smaller-scale events like Echelon Ignite, the monthly Founders Drinks. In addition, you can look to them if you want to retrieve a "WhosWho" database of startups in Asia through their e27 DB which keeps track of the new companies joining the technopreneur eco-system.  And if you want to join the start-up industry, the e27 job listing is also a good place to start hunting!

Plentiful of job listings at e27 website!

About Mr Mohan Belani

Now that you know more about e27, let's move on to the co-founder himself!

At the interview, we found that Mr Mohan is a very sociable and humourous guy! :)

We enjoyed the interview with him very much and also picked up a number of really useful tips from him.

One of the stories he narrated goes like this...

Volunteer as a helper, you may get more than you give!

During his younger days as a student intern, Mr Mohan got to know about an overseas networking paid event that his boss was going to attend.  Mr Mohan was really interested to attend this event and asked his boss if he could tag along.  Evidently, he was rejected as the costs of the flight and entrance fee were very high and it would be rare to find someone willing to cover the huge cost of fees for you when you are only an intern. Mr Mohan was disappointed that he could not join his boss, but he did not give up.  He emailed to the organiser of the event and asked if he could help out at the event. At minimum, Mr Mohan explained, he only needed to pay for the air-ticket and he could get in the conference for free.  To his pleasant surprise, he got an even better deal.  The organiser met him at the airport on the day of his arrival, handed him a free entry pass to the conference and told him,"You need not help us out.  This ticket is free for you to enjoy the conference".

That was one inspiring story, isn't it! :)

During the interview, Mr Mohan advised us to attend as many networking events as possible.  He shared with us a tip which he always used in his student days.  If you cannot afford to attend an event, volunteer as a helper, you can attend the event for free in this way!  Although it may not be every time we would be accepted, there is no harm in trying. There was another side benefit he reaped from being a volunteer at events. When he volunteered as a helper in various events, he automatically got approached by many people as he was wearing the staff tag.  In that way, he managed to really broaden his social network.

What keeps him going at e27?

At the interview, we asked Mr Mohan this question, "Were there times when you felt like giving up the company?"

To this question, Mr Mohan replied with an emphatic, "Definitely!".

Like many start-ups, the company encountered financial difficulties at various points in their initial days, and during those times, he and his team would gather and go drinking at night and say to each other that they will close the company the next day.  But each time, the next morning,  they would gather back to work again.

Here are some other questions we posed to Mr Mohan:

Question: Do you think the Singapore government provides too much help to start-ups? Such that they depend too much on their funding provided via government funding to sustain their company.
Mr Mohan: (Laughs) If the Singapore government helps too much, people complain. But if the Singapore government withdraws the help provided, Singaporeans will also complain.

Question: Can you give us some advice on how to approach people during networking events?
Mr Mohan: (Laughs again) A beer will help you to build up your courage! But here's what I personally did.  I played "silly games" with my friends such as placing bets with them that if I managed to approach a X number of people during the event, they would give me a free meal.  Conversely, if I failed, I would have to buy them a meal.  That sort of thing pushed me to work harder and overcome any inhibition to talk to people so that I managed to chalk up my 'target' each time.

It was a fun and inspiring interview with Mr Mohan! The tips he gave were very practical and useful and would definitely help us out in our own journey of entrepreneurship or technopreneurship. Furthermore I am also inspired to be like Mr Mohan who is really willing to help out and chat with the younger generation to pass on what he has learnt and experienced.

“It’s ok to be foolish once in a while, but not so foolish to make the same mistake twice” -- Mohan Belani

This entry is written by DBIT Year 1 student,  Sia Chen Ren.  

Connect with Chen Ren at his Facebook profile to talk to him! :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In relation to Mr. Mohan Belani's quote, it would have been very interesting to also know what startup mistakes should aspiring entrepreneurs avoid, based on his experiences.

But in general, this post is very good.